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Edmonton pickleball player first to be picked for national league

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An Edmonton man has been invited to be the first player in Canada's premiere national pickleball league.

Jorge Quintero has been playing pickleball at a professional level for the last five years.

He's also a coach and owns his own pickleball company.

He picked up the sport six years ago.

"I was competing professionally in squash and I transitioned to pickleball because it’s easier on the body," the Colombian told CTV News Edmonton.

He says it was easy to make the transition because pickleball shares some elements with other racket games.

"You could start playing for the first week or so and pick it up really quick, as opposed to tennis or other sports, which take a little bit of time to get used to and get good at," he said. "You could play with someone who is five years old, and someone who is 80, and everybody will have a great time. It’s pretty inclusive."

The sport has rapidly been growing in popularity, but currently, there's no national league for pro players.

That's about to change.

"It's the first time that they’re doing a Canadian pro league for us. They do have it in the States, they have a couple of leagues going there, so it’s pretty sweet that we’re now starting our own," Quintero said.

"We're going to be playing a few tournaments this year and next year, we’re hoping to grow that."

Mike McAninch, the interim commissioner of the Canadian National Pickleball League, says it's time to bring Canada's best players together.

"We kind of saw what was going on in the U.S. – they’re developing multiple leagues at the state level across the country – and saw that there was an opportunity here to do something similar in Canada."

A draft will be held in July to select players for eight teams in the league, with each team initially having four members.

The teams will play in three events this season and McAninch hopes that will expand to more events in the future.

"It's obviously really challenging when a sport is in its infancy like this. The incomes aren’t extremely high and travel costs across Canada are really high. So what we’re trying to do is make it feasible for folks to travel around the country and play and really focus on pickleball," he explained.

McAninch said drafting Quintero as the league's first player was an easy decision.

"We're just excited about who he is and what he does as a player. He’s very entertaining to watch. He’s got a big social media following because of all the trick shots and things he’s really into showcasing," the interim commissioner said.

"We're kind of hoping that’s our ace-in-the-hole, that he brings some eyes on the sport that otherwise wouldn’t, just because he’s so exciting to watch."

Quintero says he's excited for the league and also to watch the sport continue to grow in popularity.

"The sport started with the older population playing it, but a lot of kids and younger people have picked up the sport, and it is growing super fast," he told CTV News Edmonton.

"If you’re looking for a fun sport to actually get involved with and play, it’s super social, everybody's really welcoming in the world of pickleball, you’re just going to love it."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jessica Robb 

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